|Wilfrid Laurier University
|obesity; immigration; health geography; Human Geography
|Full text PDF:
OBJECTIVES: The acculturation hypothesis speculates that as new immigrants get exposed to more obesogenic environments, they progressively acquire the unhealthy lifestyles of the host society, and their obesity risk gradually increases since time of arrival. However, the consistency of the presumed acculturation effect across immigrant groups and gender, and the reasons behind individual changes in lifestyle behaviors remain unclear. Thus, this study investigated the acculturation hypothesis in the Canadian context by comparing two foreign groups, Hispanics and East/Southeast Asians, which present contrasting post-settlement obesity patterns and behavioral trends. Methods: A 41-item questionnaire (including open-ended questions) was administered with 100 first-generation immigrants in the K-W Region to gather information on weight-relatedmeasures, acculturation levels, psychological stress, lifestyle behaviors, and perceived causes of changes in diet and physical activity. A logistic regression analysis was performed to estimate the likelihood of being overweight-obese, while interview transcripts were analyzed to identify response themes and explore causal relationships. RESULTS: Hispanics exhibited considerably higher body mass index levels and larger weight gains, and a nearly nine times higher overweight risk than East/Southeast Asians. Overweight risk was also higher for males and less-educated immigrants. Data collected shows that weight gains were larger for newcomers with high average psychological stress scores, and 38% of Hispanic participants mentioned either stress or depression as causes for their weight gains. The acculturation analysis revealed that East/Southeast Asians were significantly less integrated into Canadian society and more likely to maintain their traditional diets, while both groups reportedperceived-increased levels of recreational physical activity, which contradicts the belief of a linear uniform adoption of unhealthy lifestyle behaviors. DISCUSSION: Results support the notion that the impact of duration of residence does vary by ethnicity and gender. Future prevention efforts should focus on the foreign groups most likely to develop obesity, and pay particular attention to less-educated immigrants, who may be more likely to acquire unhealthy habits after settlement. Results also highlight the emergence of acculturative stress as a significant obesity-risk factor, and support the implementation of obesity preventive efforts that help immigrants manage post-settlement-related feelings of anxiety and depression through the inclusion of social integration strategies. In an increasingly diverse and multiethnic Canada, we expect the dissemination of the research findings to help recent and long-term immigrants to become more aware of obesity-relatedissues, and thus facilitate the adoption of healthier lifestyles after settlement in Canada.